Mercury and the Making of California, Andrew
Johnston's multidisciplinary examination of the history and
cultural landscapes of California's mercury-mining industry, raises
mercury to its rightful place alongside gold and silver in the
development of the American West.
Gold and silver could not be refined without mercury; therefore,
its production and use were vital to securing power and wealth in
the West. The first industrialized mining in California, mercury
mining had its own particular organization, structure, and built
environments. These were formed within the Spanish Empire,
subsequently transformed by British imperial ambitions, and
eventually manipulated by American bankers and investors. In
California mercury mining also depended on a workforce
differentiated by race and ethnicity. The landscapes of work and
camp and the relations among the many groups involved in the
industry-Mexicans, Chileans, Spanish, English, Irish, Cornish,
American, and Chinese-form a crucial chapter in the complex history
of race and ethnicity in the American West.
This pioneering study explicates the mutual structuring of the
built environments of the mercury-mining industry and the emergence
of California's ethnic communities. Combining rich documentary
sources with a close examination of the existing physical
landscape, Johnston explores both the detail of everyday work and
life in the mines and the larger economic and social structures in
which mercury mining was enmeshed, revealing the significance of
mercury mining for Western history.
Subjects: History, Technology
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